You’ll never guess what I did last night.

I went to one of Republican Rep. Sue Myrick’s town hall meetings
on health care.

Having read so much about these boisterous events, I wanted
to see what all the fuss was about.

I wanted to confirm the mob outrage I’d seen on TV. I
wanted to hear the barely veiled racist remarks reported to be common at other
such events. I wanted to decide for myself whether these people are, as they
say, simply concerned citizens, or something worse.

I also went determined to keep an open mind.

The meeting was held at 7 p.m. inside the Gaston Day School,
2001 Gaston Day School Road, Gastonia. Even by the standards of Gaston County,
this was no easy drive for someone leaving Charlotte.

Myrick’s other two town hall meetings were in equally remote
locations – one at Weddington High School in Union County and another at J.V.
Washam Elementary School in Cornelius. I couldn’t help but wonder as I drove
for miles along narrow, winding roads why Myrick had chosen to ignore
Mecklenburg, the state’s largest and most diverse county.

When I arrived, five minutes late, the parking lot was full.
So was the 540-seat auditorium. Myrick’s staff was setting up overflow chairs
out in the lobby. Being a member of the press, I was given access to the main
room. The heavy police presence could not be missed.

The audience inside was decidedly north of middle age. A few
carried protest signs, but not many. I counted two African Americans.

Myrick was standing behind a large wooden podium on a large stage, explaining why she opposes President Obama’s efforts to reform health
care: the proposals cost too much, they amount to a government takeover, might
eventually rob families of choice, could lead to health care rationing…

“We really do need to find a way to solve this problem,” she

She then launched into some “common sense things” we as a nation could do to fix
health care without a major overhaul:
allow insurers to compete across state lines, create an online market
where families can shop for low rates, phase out limitations for pre-existing
conditions, make insurance portable, limit liability suits against doctors and

Then came time for public comment.

“I was brought up to believe that government was for the
people and by the people,” the first speaker, a middle-age woman, said right
off the bat. “What happened? …We don’t need another welfare program.”

“I don’t support this regime,” another speaker said,
demanding to know why Obama has been appointing government czars who aren’t
accountable to the people or Congress. He called them a “shadow government.”

One man said Obama was a “good talker” but was leading the
United States toward dictatorship.

“I understand those concerns,” Myrick said.

Another woman said she was angry that Obama supporters had
branded as racist those who oppose health care reform. “How dare they?” she
kept repeating, “How dare they?”

For two hours I listened, one speaker after another, all
praising Myrick for fighting the good fight – for her anti-abortion stand, for
opposing health care reform, for supporting the military — and all lambasting
Obama as a danger, a menace or both.

Only two in the audience rose in support for health care
reform, and both were booed or shouted down to various degrees. (One said she’d
like to hit Myrick with a tomato, and the crowd gave her the expected response.)

To her credit, Myrick did try (unsuccessfully) to silence
those who wanted to drown out dissent, reminding them that all deserved a chance
to be heard. She also said emphatically that the Obama plan contained no provision
for “death panels,” and that she wished the phrase could disappear from the
public debate.

In the end, I heard nothing that was overtly, or covertly,
racist. But that hardly mattered. This was not Obama’s crowd. They did not elect
him. They do not like him. And he will not sway them, regardless of what he

Next time: The legitimate concerns I heard. Plus, what these town hall meetings really say about America.

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